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The Bagpipe Society

Masquerading as Pipers, Irish and Scottish, 1770–1825

In May 1770, the radical English journalist and politician John Wilkes (1725–97), fresh from a two year prison-sentence for libel, was teased for his anti-Scottish views at one of the regular masquerades (masked balls) organised by Teresa Cornelys (1723–97), soprano, actress, and lover of Casanova, in Carlisle House, Soho Square, London (KG: 19/05/1770):1

A gentleman in a Highland dress, with the bag-pipes, came up to Mr Wilkes at Mrs Cornelys’s masquerade and played two or three tunes to him. Mr Wilkes told him, if he played to all eternity, he should never dance to the bagpipe. The Highlander asked to what music he would dance? Mr Wilkes answered, to any but the bagpipe and the German flute.

Wilkes was taking a swipe at King George III and John Stuart (1713–92), 3rd earl of Bute, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Ireland, 1762–3. The German flute alluded to the king, the first Hanoverian monarch to be born in England and to speak English as his first language. Bagpipes, reels, kilts, tartans, etc, were standard elements in satirical English attacks on Scots.2 The next year, a Highland piper featured in a masquerade in Tunbridge Wells (BPB: 18/11/1771): London, Sept. 16.

They write from Tunbridge Wells, that the departure of the Prince of Mecklenburgh, the very morning of the masquerade ball, and of Lady Effingham with her whole family, and some others, out of respect to their majesties, who are known to discountenance all diversions of that sort, threw so great a damp on the entertainment, that not one half of the company attended at it, and not above one third of those in masquerade dresses. Several of the characters were well supported, particularly that of a sailor; Mungo was very poorly attempted; there was an excellent Savoyard, and a highland bagpiper, with a few rich dresses: an astonishing concourse of the country folks had assembled on the walks to see it but were disappointed, very few of the masks appearing, as the managers had contrived to keep the diversion private.3

A Scottish piper who could play, and who was also unusual in being a woman, was at a masque at Ipswich in May 1789 (IJ: 23/05/1789):

… About 1200 masks assembled on Monday night at the Opera House … a Female Bagpiper exceeded all description, and was the only Scotch character worthy of that name. The skilful manner in which she glided from the martial to the tender, the amorous to the pathetic measure; and the wonderful facility with which she mingled, as it were, every possible expression of various passions, seemed to rivet the attention even of those who affected to treat this instrument as the appendage of barbarism.

In Dublin of the 1770s and 80s, a masquerade was customarily held just before St Patrick’s Day, a feast which relieved the monotony of Lent, and which was of increasing importance in Hanoverian Ireland.4 These masques occasionally featured or referred to bagpipes, usually the Irish variety – though some did have Scottish connections. In 1778, for instance, in the Musick Hall, Fishamble Street, on 16 March, Randal William McDonnell (1749–91), 6th earl of Antrim, wore Highland dress, but whether he brought a Highland piper to complement his ‘mask’ is not reported. He may have felt no need, as also present were ‘Mr Eyres, St Patrick, with a piper …’, ‘SurgeonDoyle, a good piper …’, and ‘Sir Richard Johnson … in the character of Pan, though he neither sang nor played the bag-pipes.’5 ‘A good Piper’ also appeared at the annual masquerade on 12 March 1787 in the ‘New Rooms’, The Rotunda (SDN: 14/03/1787). Previously, at the end of November 1779, pipers had also been among the characters at a masked ball in Cork City in aid of the North Infirmary.6 On 26 February 1781, a Pan who could play was at ‘a Masked Ball at The Rotunda, for the Benefit of the Poor Baths …’ (HJ: 28/02/1781): ‘Punch and Joan, who Danced a Jig to the Sound of a Bag-Pipe, played by a most excellent Pan – a grotesque Figure.’ The Shamrock and the Thistle could be said to have intertwined musically at a ‘Grand Masquerade’ for 2,000 guests celebrating the accession of King George IV, hosted by the lord mayor of Dublin on 25 May 1820 (SDN: 30/05/1820): ‘Mr St George, Mrs and the Misses Wybrant’s, a group of Scots Lads and Lasses: a Scotch Piper accompanied them through the room playing delightfully on the Union Pipes, Captain –––––, 93d Regt.’

In May 1818, a piper at a ‘GRAND FANCY BALL’ in Dublin was there in a professional capacity, and not as a masquer (SDN: 30/05/1818):

Before we proceed to give the Characters, we shall just observe, that a temporary Saloon was constructed in one of the inner rooms, where a tap or bar was most happily contrived in its erection; the sign, over which was the CAT AND BAGPIPES, and the words “MOLLY MALONE, licensed for Ale and Porter;’ – a piper, inside, played several of those humourous airs so familiar to the frequenters of Donnybrook fair. A waiter was in attendance, who drew large potations from two hogsheads of ale and porter – “Alley’s Best.”

On 10 May 1825, ‘A Irish Piper, Mr E. Grogan …’ [sic] was one of approximately 100 guests at a masked ball hosted by Mrs MacNamara, 24 York Street, Dublin (RLG: 14/05/1825). If this man was the future Sir Edward Grogan (1802–91), 1st baronet, of Moyvore, co. Westmeath, and MP for Dublin City, 1841–65, then he was possibly evoking his great-granduncle, Larry Grogan (1702–1728/9), the celebrated ‘gentleman piper’, a son of John Grogan (1653–1721), Johnstown Castle, Rathaspick, Co Wexford, by his second wife, Anne Smith. (Sir Edward became the senior male representative of the family when Hamilton Knox-Grogan Morgan died in 1854 at the age of forty-six, leaving two daughters.)7

‘Larry’ become a byname in Dublin for males of the Johnstown Grogans – perhaps because of the immense popularity of the jig ‘Larry Grogan’, first published in 1734. When Edward Grogan stood for parliament in 1841, he was taunted for his extreme anti-Catholicism in ‘Larry Grogan the Great’, a parody of ‘The Night before Larry was Stretched’, the 18th-century Dublin slang song (FJ: 22/06/1841). A decade later, cheers of ‘More power to you, Larry Grogan’, greeted him when he took the chair at a public meeting in the Rotunda, Dublin, on 19 January 1851. The meeting was called to demand the extension to Ireland of the Ecclesiastical Titles Assumption Bill of 1851, then being debated in the House of Commons in London. This bill, a reaction to Pope Pius IX’s decision in 1850 to restore the British Catholic hierarchy, forbade Catholic prelates to assume territorial titles in Great Britain. The ensuing act, never enforced, was repealed in 1871.8

How Surgeon Doyle in 1778 and the unnamed masquer in 1787 proved they were ‘good’ pipers is not obvious, unless they could actually play, but doing so in character had its perils, as one man found out in 1808 (FLJ: 28 May 1808):

A Gentleman going to the Masquerade, in Dublin, on Monday night, in the character of a PIPER, was stopped by the populace near Carlisle Bridge, to whom he very politely exhibited himself, and in the spirit of his character played them a tune on his bagpipes, which they were so well pleased with, that a party of coal-porters and flour-porters, who ply and reside in that neighbourhood, insisted on taking him into a house on Aston’s-quay, where they treated him with drink, and insisted on his playing for them, which he good-humouredly complied with for some times, which they ill requited by detaining him until four o’clock in the morning; when falling out amongst themselves, and having got drunk, they broke his bagpipes and his paper mask, and being thus treated with “piper’s wages,” [he] retired to rest without the enjoyment of a ball or supper, for which he had purchased his ticket of admission.

‘Carlisle-bridge’ on the River Liffey is now O’Connell Bridge. ‘Piper’s wages’ was a variant of the old saying, ‘piper’s pay – more kicks than (half)pence’ (DEM, 9/06/1828).9 A late example is in a letter from Cardinal Paul Cullen, archbishop of Dublin, dated 5 December 1874, in which he wrote in relation to a current religious controversy that ‘Gladstone has got the piper’s pay – more kicks than pence.’10

As to the unfortunate masquer, almost certainly, like the wedding-guest in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, ‘A sadder and a wiser man, / He rose the morrow morn.’

  1. Abbreviations: BPB – Boston Post Boy; DEM – Dublin Evening Mail; FJ – Freeman’s Journal; FLJ – Finn’s Leinster Journal; HJ – Hibernian Journal; IJ – Ipswich Journal; KG – Kentish Gazette; RLG – Roscommon & Leitrim Gazette; SDN – Saunder’s Dublin News-letter.
  2. Fordham, British art and the Seven Years’ War: allegiance and autonomy (Philadelphia, 2010), p. 176
  3. Mary Jane Corry, Kate Van Winkle Keller, and Robert M. Keller, ‘The performing arts in colonial American newspapers, 1690–1783: text database and index’ (Annapolis, 2010) (28 January 2019)
  4. Bridget McCormack, Perceptions of St Patrick in eighteenth-century Ireland (Dublin, 2000), pp 69–84.
  5. Sir John T. Gilbert, History of the city of Dublin (3 vols, Dublin, 1857–9), i, pp 83–5.
  6. David Dickson, Old world colony: Cork and south Munster, 1630–1830 (Cork, 2003), p. 444.
  7. Seán Donnelly, ‘A Wexford gentleman piper: “Famous Larry Grogan” (1701–28/9)’, Journal of the Wexford Historical Society xvi (1996–7), 41–65. For corrections and additions, see idem., ‘Notes on the Wexford gentleman piper, Larry Grogan (1702–28/)’, part 1’, An Píobaire vii, 5 (Nollaig/December 2011), 20–5; part 2, ibid., viii, (Feabhra/ February 2012), 17–21; part 3’, ibid., viii. 2 (Aibreán/April 2012), 21–5.
  8. idem., ‘Notes …, part 1’, pp 23–4.
  9. Samuel Lover, Hand Andy: a tale of Irish life (London, 1842), p. 155.
  10. Archives of the Pontifical Irish College, Rome: CARDINAL CULLEN, Letters to Kirby, 1874 Section 42/1. A summary of this letter was formerly available in an online catalogue.